Cleaning - is it simply a basic task for a service provider to perform against an agreed set of KPIs, or a means through which innovation in overall facilities service delivery can be delivered to the client? asks Raj Krishnamurthy.
14 July 2014
When client and supplier discuss the topic of innovation in cleaning, first and most obvious is an exploration of newly introduced cleaning methods and products that can help to deliver cost savings and efficiencies.
From chemical-free cleaning and quick-dry technologies to the use of water-saving micro-fibre cloths, there are plenty of potential product innovations to consider.
Yet even when delivered by a service provider as part of a single-service model, cleaning should not be treated as a standalone discipline that can only be improved through the use of different products. Effective cleaning is proved to have a positive impact on a building or brand's image so providers need to think in broader terms about how such services can be adapted and evolved to meet business needs.
Recent market research commissioned by Interserve and Sheffield Hallam University suggests that there has been a shift from a pure cost and service level focus, with 90 per cent of respondents requesting that new ideas be offered by their suppliers during the preparation and management of outsourced contracts.
The report predicts that value for money will be increasingly derived through a greater emphasis on innovation, service quality and customer satisfaction.
Innovation in cleaning, which is outsourced in nearly 70 per cent of cases, is linked to wider strategic and business objectives. How then is this best achieved?
Technology in the cleaning arena has developed rapidly in recent years. Incremental improvements, through the use of products that can reduce wastage, help limit or remove hazards, or minimise the time spent on a task, are all paving the way for smarter cleaning solutions.
While none of these is innovative on its own, when delivered as a package designed to redefine the way services are delivered, they can enable significant improvements in terms of a reduction in cleaning hours and financial savings.
Results from the Interserve/Sheffield Hallam research showed that while 86 per cent of respondents believe innovation is the most important influence in tender evaluation, a huge 94 per cent still put cost as the number one factor. And because most of the cost of cleaning is in the labour, this has led to increasing interest in robotic cleaners. In theory, the idea of assigning staff to other duties while a machine carries out the more straightforward tasks of cleaning large floor areas is credible.
Whatever the type of cleaning to be undertaken or the nature of the environment in which the cleaning is taking place, a human presence is required. Many retail environments for example, operate 24 hours a day and at certain times, there may be boxes or trollies obscuring the aisles while shelf stacking takes place. While a cleaner can adapt and return to the area later to finish a task, a machine will not be programmed to react in the same way.
The role of the contract cleaner is significant in helping to turn small, incremental improvements into innovations that help the organisation meet its objectives. For example, a supermarket cleaning team that has been trained by the customer can fulfil a dual role by both cleaning and restocking shelves to the required standard, releasing the client's staff members for other duties. A cleaner who is aware of the importance of retail brand image can not only clean to a high standard and help to raise shoppers' perceptions, but also act in a customer service capacity by directing people to the right area of the store or helping with general queries.
FM providers also need the space and opportunity to develop and hone the cleaning service. The longer the contract length, the more able the provider will be to understand a building's characteristics and adjust cleaning practices to suit. Longer contract terms also allow for a more flexible approach to the workforce, with better communication between cleaners and other facilities teams as well as an enhanced ability to respond to reactive work readily.
In the FM industry, there has been a significant drive to encourage innovation because of increased competition, greater commoditisation, the requirement to reach higher standards for less outlay and to achieve better productivity.
As we have identified, this innovation needs to be linked to the strategic planning process and how it will support the customer to continually improve. It is more than just technology. Sometimes it requires only a small change in a process or the way people work together.
In this way, the cleaning function really can be used as a tool to help bring about a step change in innovation. By working with facilities management providers strategically and defining their innovation goals, customers can achieve more flexible and efficient service delivery for the long term.
Raj Krishnamurthy is innovations director at Interserve